December & January make up the planting season for longleaf pine. We planted about 3000 in December of last year, another 3334 this December and will get another 3000 into the ground in January next year.
The kids planted most of the trees last December and will do again in January, but Chrissy and I planted the December 2019 tranche. It took a whole week plus one day. I picked up the trees from Bodenhammer in North Carolina on Friday, December 6. It is a long drive, and even though I got them early in the morning, I still had only the afternoon to start.
Winter is the time of short days. The sun goes down a little before 5pm and it doesn’t get light again until 7am. We also had a couple days of cold rain. On the plus side, the rain makes the ground softer and so easier to punch the Dipple bar, but it also makes it harder to see, harder to get around and cold rain makes the work more miserable. I worked alone until Chrissy came down on Tuesday. It was great to have her, nearly doubled productivity, and I just liked having her with me.
Below are notes from the planting days.
On my way to pick up the first tranche of this year’s longleaf. I stopped off at Freeman to check out the fire results. It is odd. Some places burned a lot and others not at all. It seems like there is dry grass that should have burned easily next to burned areas.
The fire top killed brambles, but did not burn them away, so it is going to be hard going planting in some of the patches. I am going to be planting all next week and I will push through, but I will use my cutter to make easier paths for the kids when they come to plant. I want them to have good memories. They can get used to the brambles gradually, as I did.
Burning is good, but it always scares me. I inspected my longleaf most carefully. Some of the needles are singed and will fall off. I checked for the buds on some of the lower branches, figuring that that was most likely to be killed and that higher ones would be better. I found that middle was still green and will be growing, so I assume the tops are good.
Longleaf is fire adapted. The needles singe, but when they heat up they release humidity that protects the terminal buds. The buds are what count. If the buds are alive, the tree will grow again
My grass stage longleaf also have green centers. I might lose a few, but I think most will be okay.
First picture is the green center of one of the longleaf branches. Next is the burn-over of the 2012 pines and after that some of the grass stage nearby. Penultimate shows the burning under 1996 loblolly and the grassy hills. I planted some clover on the fire line bare dirt. I know that is not “native” but it is pollinator habitat and generally a good plant for that purpose. I scattered some of the native seeds that I gathers onto the burned areas. I got a lot of rattlesnake master seeds and scattered them. The flowers are not showy, but the bees and butterflies love them. A lot of the native plants come in when you burn. If you burn it they will come. I will plant longleaf in the clearings among the loblolly. Have to push through those brambles.
First planting afternoon
My imagined (wished for) capacity to plant trees is very much greater than my real power. I picked up 3000 longleaf seedlings this morning and got to Freeman around 2pm. I planted steady until almost 5pm. I got around 250 planted.
My challenge, beside being old and slow, is that the fire burned the ground but did not knock down the brambles. It really slows me down when I hit the bramble patches, but even the dog fennel, also often still standing. is a problem. Complain, complain. The weather also is not going to cooperate tomorrow or Friday. But there is nothing to do but go one. I used my Marriott points to stay 5 nights and six days down here, so I can get a lot done, if not all.
I have scouted out the better, i.e. less full of bramble, places to plant. I am going to hit them first. I can take my cutter to the less pleasant places and make paths.
Chrissy will come and help starting on Wednesday, so I may get er done despite the problems.
My first picture shows Aaron Bodenhamer. They grow the longleaf I use. Very friendly people. Next are the siblings of my pines on the Bodenhammer place. My few thousand trees are a drop in that bucket. We plant more than 2 billion trees every year in the U.S. South. Last are some of the pines I planted, in a fairy non-bramble section. If it all that clear, I would be much happier. I am planting them four step apart, but only where they are not directly under the loblolly. I am scattering a few in good places within the stand.
Chrissy has come down to help plant pine trees, so my productivity will double. Poor girl has blisters on her hands now, but will soldier on tomorrow anyway. I no longer get blisters.
Tomorrow will be a good day, sunny but cool. Chrissy also brought the cutter. I wacked a bunch of brambles. I didn’t have to do a very complete job, just enough to make it easy to get through, so it was well worth the time.
First picture is Chrissy wearing the blaze (hunting season) with the dibble bars. Next is me at the end of the day, followed by sunset on the farms, way to early this time of year. We went for supper at Cracker Barrel. You feel very young when you eat at Cracker Barrel, since the average customer age must be more than that proverbial four score and seven.
Chrissy’s help is helping get the planting back on track. If it does not rain all day on Friday, we should be able to finish by Saturday evening – 3000 little longleaf pine in the ground.
Google maps are great. I could track where I was in the woods. On the ground, it is hard to see where the clearing start and how to get from one to the others. The Google maps really helped. I think we got them all covered, but I need to get the ground truth. I am sure we missed some.
I constantly marvel at how things have improved. Some years ago I bought a Garmin to help navigate. It had primitive graphics and it was not very precise. And it was not cheap. Now we get a much better picture for free. We live in the best of times. This is just one example.
We planted four steps apart in the clearings and in under planting corridors. The kids will be along for the next planting. I am going to cut paths in some of the brambles so that the kids don’t suffer so much. The brambles were the worst, really slowed us down.
It was very nice today, around 50 and sunny, but Friday was miserable. It rained all day and into Saturday morning. The rain is the excuse for needing that extra day.
Other pictures are Chrissy and I at El Ranchero, a Mexican restaurant in Emporia. I really love being in my woods, but Emporia does not have a lot of things I like. As far as I could find, there is no place to get a good craft beer.